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Journal of Educational Change

Impact of inquiry‑based working on the capacity to change

in primary education

Judith Amels1   · Meta Krüger2 · Cor Suhre3 · Klaas van Veen3

© The Author(s) 2019

Educational improvement projects are increasingly focused upon the significant role
of data in determining student performance, teachers’ learning, and schools’ ability
to initiate local reforms. Thus, schools are moving toward a new approach to learn-
ing, progressing from the routine to the non-routine through inquiry-based work-
ing. In addition, educational improvement requires teachers to exhibit the capacity
to change, namely, to implement the innovations proposed by government agencies
or the schools themselves. Therefore, the current study investigates the extent to
which the inquiry-based working of primary school teachers predicts their capacity
to change. Furthermore, the study identifies which aspects of inquiry-based work-
ing are the critical drivers in the capacity to change. A mixed model analysis of
questionnaire data collected from a sample of 787 teachers at 65 Dutch elementary
schools revealed that the central aspects of inquiry-based work (i.e., working with an
inquiry habit of mind, demonstrating data literacy, using data in the classroom, and
using data at the school level) are significant in promoting an increased capacity to
change. Working with an inquiry habit of mind emerged as the most critical aspect.
Data use in the classroom and at the school level are complementary factors that
also enhance a teacher’s capacity to change.

Keywords  Capacity to change · Collaboration · Inquiry-based working · Inquiry

habit of mind · Professional learning activities

* Judith Amels
Marnix Academy, University for Teacher Education, Utrecht, The Netherlands
Penta Nova, Academy for Leadership in Education, Utrecht, The Netherlands
Department of Teacher Education, Faculty of Behavioral and Social Sciences, University
of Groningen, Groningen, The Netherlands

Journal of Educational Change


Schools across the world are currently facing official demands to raise performance
standards, narrow pupil performance gaps in reading and mathematics, and to pro-
vide challenges for the gifted at the same time (Deppeler and Ainscow 2016). To
initiate and implement the reforms that allow schools to meet such demands also
requires that teachers develop the capacity to change their teaching and learning
practices. This capacity encompasses all conditions at the school and teacher level
that enhance educators’ professional learning and promote advances in teaching
(Hopkins et al. 2011; Thoonen et al. 2012). Strategies for school improvement often
rely on the assumption that teachers are able and willing to change and that both
teachers and schools have the capacity to transform. However, research confirming
this capacity is limited, especially in primary education. More accurately, extant lit-
erature on school improvement has not sufficiently explored how schools enhance
their educational quality or realize sustainable, long-term change (Hopkins et  al.
2014; Staman et al. 2014; Valenzuela et al. 2016).
Modern projects aimed at educational improvement tend to focus on data and
their influence in determining student performance and teacher learning, along
with the schools’ ability to initiate local reforms and the success of these improve-
ment efforts (Datnow and Hubbard 2015). Data alone, however, cannot provide
all the information that educators need. Educators must analyze and interpret
them in order to formulate answers to urgent questions about educational quality
and student outcomes (e.g., Earl and Katz 2006; Van Geel et  al. 2016). So-called
inquiry-based working arguably generates school improvements (Datnow and Hub-
bard 2015). Nonetheless, no prior research has established a relationship between
teachers’ inquiry-based working on the one hand, and the capacity to change on the
other–even though both constructs relate to school improvement and effectiveness
(Hopkins et al. 2011).
To add to the knowledge in the area of school improvement, this study inves-
tigates whether an inquiry-based disposition enhances teacher’s capacity to reform
and which aspects of inquiry-based working can be assumed as the most important
drivers of a teacher’s capacity to change. For this purpose, we chose a quantitative
approach (a quantitative survey involving 787 teachers from 65 primary schools)
because we were interested in exploring these general patterns and relationships,
recognizing that such an approach does not allow for an in-depth exploration. Such
an exploration will be the next step if meaningful patterns are found. Accordingly,
in this article, we first define and explain teacher’s capacity to change and inquiry-
based working. We also describe how the relationship between these two factors is
understood within the literature. Secondly, we describe the context of our study, as
well as the variable measurement and our multilevel analysis approach. Following
the results, the most important findings and conclusions are presented and discussed
in the final paragraph.

Journal of Educational Change

Theoretical framework

Inquiry‑based working

Global shifts in the educational environment have prompted schools to consider

a new approach to learning: non-routine, rather than routine, through data use
(Katz and Dack 2014; Seashore Louis and Lee 2016). In inquiry-based working,
teachers and teams systematically collect and analyze various types of data in an
effort to improve the performance of both students and schools (Marsh and Farrell
2015). The current study adopts a holistic perspective on inquiry-based working,
in line with Earl and Katz (2006) and Uiterwijk-Luijk et al. (2017). According to
this view, inquiry-based working entails working with an inquiry habit of mind,
demonstrating data literacy, using data at the school level, and using data in class-
rooms with the goal of improving educational quality. When teachers work in an
inquiry-based way, they use all the data available to enhance student outcomes
(Earl and Fullan 2003; Krüger 2010a; Uiterwijk-Luijk et al. 2017).
Different types of data are relevant: quantitative (e.g., test results), qualitative
(e.g., interviews, observation reports), input (e.g., education level, age, children’s
school entry), process (e.g., observational data on school improvements), satisfac-
tion (e.g., stakeholder satisfaction surveys), and output (e.g., student outcomes).
The internal data available offer insights into effective teaching and learning
strategies and results. They support accountability, but even more pertinently,
they highlight the need to focus on development (Brown and Greany 2018; Earl
and Fullan 2003; Earl and Katz 2006; Krüger 2010a). In inquiry-based working,
evidence-based information also provides insights: Teachers and school leaders
rely on external research to learn about successful strategies for realizing educa-
tional improvements. Thus, inquiry-based working relies on the use of data from
a variety of sources.
To work with data in ways that enable teachers to learn, teachers investigate
their own practices. Therefore, data use is assumed to improve teachers’ learn-
ing and development with regard to their own educational practices, such as by
improving or adapting their methods of instruction to better reflect students’ edu-
cational needs (Deppeler and Ainscow 2016). In addition, as they do so collec-
tively, the process of improving and adapting may more strongly result in meeting
students’ needs (Ainscow et al. 2016). According to Uiterwijk-Luijk et al. (2017),
to work in an inquiry-based way, teachers must first develop an inquiry habit of
mind, implying that they are curious, ask questions, and are open to engaging in
deep learning. They are able to switch perspectives and discard existing routines
to create new ones. Moreover, a well-developed inquiry habit of mind strengthens
a teacher’s sense of self-efficacy (Uiterwijk-Luijk et al. 2017).
In addition, teachers must be able to obtain meaningful information and learn
from data, such that they demonstrate data literacy, or an “ability to understand
and use data effectively to inform decisions” (Mandinach and Gummer 2013,
p. 30). Teachers who demonstrate data literacy think about the purpose of data,
understand different data types and qualities, competently interpret data, and

Journal of Educational Change

report their findings to others. They are capable of transforming data into infor-
mation and then information into actionable knowledge. To do so, they need to be
able to identify, collect, organize, analyze, summarize, and prioritize data. How-
ever, within this focus upon teachers’ personal data interpretation and learning
processes, both teachers and school leaders must also be able to acknowledge the
existing potential for bias (Katz and Dack 2014).
Consequently, teachers who adopt an inquiry-based approach use data within
their classrooms to inform them of ways to adapt their instruction and learning to
correspond to students’ needs. Finally, such teachers also use data at the school level
when considering how to enhance educational quality.
As they use these data, teachers collectively learn. They concentrate on develop-
ing higher-quality teaching methods by employing, adjusting, and adapting stand-
ards (Ainscow et al. 2016; Seashore Louis and Lee 2016). This approach results in
new insights, which then leads to new explicit knowledge at the school level. The
outcomes include enhanced teaching and learning by teachers, sharper educational
goals, and a stronger sense of ownership of the developments by the instructors.
As deep learning takes place, reform and sustainable change occur for both indi-
vidual teachers and the team as a whole (Camburn and Han 2016; Katz and Dack
2014). School cultures in which data use, an inquiry habit of mind, and data literacy
are common can foster educational improvement and teacher professionalization
(Krüger and Geijsel 2011; Schildkamp et al. 2012). However, educational improve-
ment requires a teacher’s capacity to change to be at a particular level.

Capacity to change

Change is a process by which an old or problematic issue is adjusted and trans-

formed, resulting in a new experience or learning (Fullan 2016; Stoll 2009). Within
this study, change refers to a planned, systematic, purposeful, and coordinated modi-
fication, aimed at achieving educational improvements within schools (Deppeler and
Ainscow 2016). The capacity of teachers to change is defined as their capability to
collaborate in developing and implementing innovations initiated by the govern-
ment, the school board or the teachers themselves. The term also refers to teach-
ers’ ability to connect innovations to both the individual and collective learning pro-
cesses that lead to change (Geijsel et al. 1999; Harris et al. 2015).
Based on Ho and Lee (2016), Thoonen et  al. (2011), Diseth et  al. (2012), and
Geijsel et al. (2009), this study operationalizes teacher’s change capacity in terms of
three aspects that are all assumed to contribute to teacher’s capacity to change: (1)
teacher collaboration, (2) the extent to which teachers undertake professional learn-
ing activities; and (3) motivational variables, such as whether they internalize school
goals as personal objectives, their sense of self-efficacy, and their job satisfaction.
Firstly, change requires collective acts, which means devoting time, effort, and
energy to a learning process in order to attain certain outcomes or goals (Philpott
and Oates 2017). These joint actions require collaboration because support from
and communication with colleagues is necessary to realize successful change (Har-
greaves and Fullan 2012; Ho and Lee 2016; Mayotte et al. 2013). In line with Little

Journal of Educational Change

(1982), teacher’s capacity to change in terms of collaboration is meant as joint work.

In joint work, teachers collectively find answers to educational and instructional
problems and issues by sharing ideas and practices in order to develop innova-
tive teaching methods (Meirink et al. 2010). There are several forms of collabora-
tion–story telling, aid and assistance, sharing and joint work—with varying levels of
task interdependency. At a high level of task interdependency, the task performance
of one teacher is strongly dependent on the task performance of the others, which
is the case in joint work. High levels of task interdependency between teachers are
likely to encourage their learning through collaboration (Little 1982, 1990; Meirink
et  al. 2010). Finally, collaboration is enhanced by collegial support and trust,
meaning that teachers share the belief that change should be a collective endeavor
(Coburn and Turner 2011; Pogodzinski 2014; Thoonen et  al. 2011). Accordingly,
this study focuses on teacher collaboration as joint work that features a high level of
task interdependency and collegial support.
Secondly, teacher’s capacity to change can be ascertained with reference to the
undertaking of professional learning activities. As demonstrated by Borman et al.’s
(2003) meta-analysis, teachers who emphasize continuous development seem to
exhibit an increased capacity to change. In addition, to create a climate support-
ing change-oriented behavior, a learning environment is imperative (Weiner and
Higgins 2017). Thus, the way teachers undertake professional learning activities
reflects their use of opportunities for active learning, as well as how they experiment
with or reflect upon their own work and classroom teaching (Geijsel et  al. 2009;
Thoonen et al. 2011). Louws et al. (2016) identify that teachers are often willing to
learn about curriculum and instruction-related aspects, which are topics central to
being a teacher. Consequently, when a change relates to these topics, teachers are
more likely to be willing to participate. Similarly, professional learning activities
that lead to change also tend to be characterized by the dissemination and adapta-
tion of insights and experiences (Camburn and Han 2016; Hargreaves and Fullan
2012; Mayotte et al. 2013). Hence, this study focuses on the extent to which teachers
remain up-to-date, experiment, reflect, and share their knowledge and experiences
within the team.
Thirdly, within teacher’s capacity to change the concern of motivational factors
needs to be considered, as personal goals and beliefs about capacities are founda-
tional to the motivational processes that lead to commitment and change (e.g., Gei-
jsel et al. 1999; Geijsel et al. 2009; Thoonen et al. 2011). Teachers seem more com-
mitted to their schools and more motivated to participate in learning processes when
they have internalized the school’s goals as their own (Geijsel et al. 2009). As such,
attaining these personal goals encourages commitment and thus enhances teach-
ers’ contributions to change processes. Furthermore, without some particular level
of self-efficacy, teachers are less inclined to contribute to change (Thoonen et  al.
2011; Valenzuela et  al. 2016). Teachers with stronger efficacy beliefs tend to per-
severe in their teaching beliefs and behaviors, even when confronted with difficul-
ties. Such educators feel adequately equipped, experience less uncertainty, and find
constructive answers more quickly (Oude Groote Beverborg et al. 2015). Committed
and satisfied teachers play a vital role in helping their schools develop successfully;
their higher levels of organizational commitment and job satisfaction encourage

Journal of Educational Change

them to devote more efforts to attaining organizational goals. Job satisfaction here is
meant as the result of a relaxed and positive emotional state attained within experi-
ences within one’s job (Hulpia et al. 2009). However, job satisfaction is a complex
variable, influenced by both the dispositional characteristics of the employee and
the situational factors of the job (Singh and Kaur 2010). Teachers who are satis-
fied with their jobs are likely to demonstrate greater dedication to the organization
and are willing to contribute to, and accept, change. Motivational variables–such as
self-efficacy, job satisfaction, and the ability to embrace school goals as personal
targets–keep teachers abreast of current trends in education and increase their will-
ingness to apply those advances to their own teaching practices (Hulpia et al. 2009;
Thoonen et al. 2012).
To develop a capacity for change, teaching skills are critical. Skills develop over
time, and experienced teachers may be more capable of changing their mindsets by
drawing on other perspectives (Desimone 2009). Additionally, in the Dutch educa-
tional context, teachers at graduate school level, wherein teachers develop an inquiry
habit of mind and endorse the relevance of inquiry-based working, are increasingly
desired. Accordingly, background characteristics–such as the amount of teaching
experience and teacher’s level of education–seemingly influence the extent to which
teachers work in an inquiry-based way (e.g., Kocór and Worek 2017; Mueller 2013;
Mullola et al. 2011; Rubie-Davies et al. 2012).
To investigate the extent to which teachers’ inquiry-based working explains dif-
ferences in the capacity to change, the current study centered on primary schools
in the Netherlands. The aim was to determine whether an inquiry-based disposition
enhances teachers’ capacity to transform, with the ultimate goal of improving educa-
tional quality. Accordingly, the central research questions were as follows:

1. To what extent does teachers’ inquiry-based working in primary schools predict

their capacity to change?
2. Which aspects of inquiry-based working are the most important drivers of teach-
ers’ capacity to change within primary schools?

Figure 1 illustrates the key concepts and how they, in line with the research ques-
tions, are assumed to be related.


Context, participants, and procedures

In the Netherlands, children aged 4 to 12  years participate in eight years of pri-
mary education. Education is compulsory from the age of five years. In the last
year of primary education, students receive a recommendation for appropriate sec-
ondary schooling. These suggestions are partly based on the results of a national
test, though parental and teacher preferences also play a role. Most Dutch primary
schools are government-funded private institutions, and many have a religious

Journal of Educational Change

Fig. 1  The key concepts and the relationships assumed

affiliation. Although the Netherlands does not have a national curriculum, there is a
national standardized framework with indicators included. Schools are autonomous,
which means that they have the right of self-government–encompassing the freedom
to make independent decisions–on the responsibilities that have been decentralized
to schools (Neeleman 2018, p. 4). This autonomy is reflected in school’s policies
related to pedagogical approaches, personnel, and financial management. Quality
standards apply to all schools, however, and the national inspectorate is tasked with
ensuring educational quality. A risk-based approach is followed, wherein control of
output is central (Ehren et  al. 2017). Based upon the Dutch context of an applied
quality standard to all schools and the absence of a national curriculum, a teach-
er’s capacity to change is relatively important. To serve the different educational
needs of their students, teachers should be able to initiate and adapt educational and
instructional improvement and, simultaneously, comply with the quality standards.

Journal of Educational Change

Almost 500 schools were invited by post and e-mail to participate in this study.
A total of 65 schools took part, most of them located in the mid-western or east-
ern regions of the Netherlands. A web-based survey was sent to 1209 teachers,
all working with students between the ages of 4 and 12 years, including students
with special educational needs. The questionnaire was completed by 963 teachers
from April to June, 2016, representing a response rate of 79%. For 176 partici-
pants, more than 10% of the data were missing; these incomplete response sets
were excluded from the analysis. A sample of 787 teachers was, therefore, gener-
ated. The sample’s gender ratio (89.4% female, 10.6% male) reflected that of the
larger population of Dutch primary school teachers (87% female, 13% male; see
The demographic characteristics of the participants are summarized in Table 1.
A few respondents (32%) were younger than 35 years. The grade distribution was
fairly equal, and almost 70% of the teachers had bachelor’s degrees. Team sizes
ranged between 4 and 38 teachers, and the participation rate of the teams varied
between 31% and 100%.

Table 1  Participants’ demographic characteristics (N = 787)

Demographic characteristic n %

Gender Female 703 89

Male 84 11
Age at time of survey < 25 33 4.2
25–34 215 27.4
35–44 209 26.6
45–54 157 19.9
> 55 170 21.6
Years of experience in primary < 4 77 9.8
education 5–9 158 20.1
10–14 168 21.3
>15 383 48.7
Class level taught Grade 1 and 2 181 23
Grade 3 90 11.4
Grade 4 91 11.6
Grade 5 76 9.7
Grade 6 76 9.7
Grade 7 77 9.8
Grade 8 86 10.9
Other function (e.g., special educational 107 13.6
Educational level No bachelor’s or master’s degree 34 4.3
Bachelor’s degree 549 69.8
Master’s degree 201 25.6

Journal of Educational Change

Variable measures

To measure primary school teachers’ inquiry-based working and capacity to change,

the authors developed a new questionnaire with items drawn from or based on exist-
ing scales (Geijsel et al. 2001; Krüger 2010b; Oude Groote Beverborg et al. 2015;
Schildkamp et al. 2012). Certain items were self-formulated. All items pertaining to
inquiry-based working and the capacity to change used 5-point Likert scales, rang-
ing from 1 (totally disagree) to 5 (totally agree). To test for construct validity, the
questionnaire was piloted with 10 primary school teachers working in grades 1 to 8
who were not otherwise involved in this research. The feedback from the pilot test
was incorporated into the final questionnaire.

Inquiry‑based working

The inquiry-based working questionnaire contained 22 items across four scales:

working with an inquiry habit of mind (5 items, e.g., “Out of curiosity, I system-
atically ask questions in my work,” Cronbach’s alpha = .82), demonstrating data lit-
eracy (7 items, e.g., “I am able to process and analyze collected data,” Cronbach’s
alpha = .89), using data at the school level with the aim of improving educational
quality (6 items, e.g., “To us, it is essential to analyze data on how to enhance edu-
cational quality,” Cronbach’s alpha = .82), and using data in classrooms (4 items,
e.g., “In preparing my lessons, I use data on my students,” Cronbach’s alpha = .81).

Capacity to change

The capacity to change was investigated and assessed by means of multi-item scales
(total of 56 items), measuring (1) teachers’ collaborations, (2) the ways teachers
undertook professional learning activities, and (3) three motivational variables (i.e.,
the extent to which teachers internalized school goals, the teachers’ sense of self-
efficacy, and job satisfaction).
To measure collaboration, three scales addressed joint work (6 items, e.g., “In our
team, we evaluate new approaches,” Cronbach’s alpha = .84), task interdependency
(4 items, e.g., “In our team, we need information from each other to do our jobs,”
Cronbach’s alpha = .72), and collegial support (6 items, e.g., “My colleagues tell me
about the difficulties they face in teaching and how they solve them,” Cronbach’s
alpha = .85).
The extent to which the teachers undertook professional learning activities was
measured with four scales. The first addressed the degree to which the teachers kept
themselves up-to-date in the field of teaching (6 items, e.g., “I undertake initiatives
on my own to ensure my own professional development,” Cronbach’s alpha = .86).
Subsequently, the extent to which the teachers experimented (4 items, e.g., “In my
lessons, I test new instructional approaches,” Cronbach’s alpha = .74) and reflected
(5 items, e.g., “I compare my current teaching to my teaching from one year ago,”

Journal of Educational Change

Cronbach’s alpha = .80) were assessed, as was the degree to which the teachers
shared their knowledge and experience (6 items, e.g., “In our team, teachers share
opinions and ideas about educational developments,” Cronbach’s alpha = .89).
Four items measured the extent to which teachers internalized school goals and
generated them into personal targets (e.g., “I completely endorse our school goals
and my actions support them,” Cronbach’s alpha = .80). Both a sense of self-efficacy
(e.g., “I feel like I am successful in my work,” Cronbach’s alpha = .81) and job satis-
faction (e.g., “I am satisfied with my job as a teacher,” Cronbach’s alpha = .88) were
measured with 5 items each.

Background characteristics

The survey included items to measure five background traits. Gender was binary
(1 = female, 2 = male). Respondents could choose from five age categories (coded
1–5): < 25  years, 25–34  years, 35–44  years, 45–54  years, or ≥ 55  years. The years
of experience variable featured four levels: 1 = less than 4  years, 2 = 4–10  years,
3 = 10–15 years, and 4 = 15 years or more. For the educational level of the partici-
pants, 1 = no bachelor’s or master’s degree, 2 = bachelor’s degree, and 3 = master’s
degree. Finally, the class level taught (grades 1–8) took the respective grade as a
value, and then the option “other function (special educational needs)” was coded 9.

Data analysis

Multilevel methods were used to analyze the data. Intra-class coefficients computed
for the intercept-only models illustrate the effect of clustering on the ten variables
reflecting the different aspects of a teacher’s capacity to change; the values range
from .03 to .32. Subsequently, to assess the extent to which all four inquiry-based
variables explain within-school differences in the capacity to change, multilevel
analyses were performed (procedure Mixed, SPSS version 23, SPSS Inc., 2016). For
each dependent variable (collaboration, undertaken learning activities, and motiva-
tional variables), the analysis calculated the difference between a model containing
all four inquiry-based working variables and an empty (intercept-only) model.
The independent variables were group mean-centered because the analysis was
not focused on the school level but rather on teachers’ perceptions (Tabacknick
and Fidell 2013). With regard to the amount of within-school variance explained
by the multilevel models, the factor of interest was the reduction in the variance
within the random intercept parameters due to the inclusion of different aspects of
inquiry-based working, or their combinations. Demographic characteristics served
as covariates. The full model, including the four aspects of inquiry-based working
and the demographic characteristics, offered a significantly better fit than one that
only integrated the intercepts (see Table 2). Across the participants, the slopes did
not vary. For each dependent variable, the final model differed significantly from
the full model, as illustrated in Table 2. All four predictors of inquiry-based work-
ing improved the fit of the model in terms of each aspect of the capacity to change.

Table 2  Comparison of multilevel models predicting the capacity to change on the basis of inquiry-based working
Journal of Educational Change

Null model M1 Full model M2 Final model M3

−2 log likelihood −2 log likelihood χ difference −2 log likelihood (df) χ2 difference
test (M1–M2) test (M2–M3)

Collaboration Joint work 1681.666 1558.024 123.642* 1544.275 (10) 13.749*

Task interdependency 1392.334 1257.228 135.106* 1239.233 (9) 17.995*
Collegial support 1633.292 1514.190 119.102* 1502.803 (10) 11.387*
Professional learning Keeping up to date 1599.868 1164.432 435.436* 1143.395 (9) 21.037*
activities undertaken Experimenting 1502.370 1274.890 227.480* 1257.773 (9) 17.117*
Reflecting 1231.511 797.335 434.176* 771.204 (9) 26.131*
Sharing knowledge and experience 1684.678 1503.729 180.949* 1487.047 (10) 16.682*
Motivational variables Internalizing school goals into personal goals 1369.280 1061.133 308.147* 1038.421 (9) 22.712*
Sense of self-efficacy 1372.718 1113.230 259.488* 1091.920 (8) 21.310*
Job satisfaction 1538.595 1444.133 94.462* 1431.061 (10) 13.072*

M1 df = 3, M2 df = 13, *p < .01

Journal of Educational Change

The demographic predictors also improved the model’s fit, and each contributed
uniquely to each dependent variable to establish the best possible fit.


Descriptive statistics

For the four aspects of inquiry-based working, the mean item scores varied between
4.17 and 4.59. The mean scores for the capacity to change aspects spanned from
3.81 to 4.47. The midpoint on the 5-point Likert scales is 3.0, so these results indi-
cated positive, relatively high scores for all variables, as detailed in Table 3. The dis-
tribution measures revealed a moderately negative skewness for two inquiry-based
working aspects; namely, data literacy and classroom data use. For the latter, a high
positive kurtosis also emerged. However, skewness and kurtosis do not make a sub-
stantive difference in an analysis with a sample that is greater than 200 respondents
(Tabacknick and Fidell 2013).

Multilevel analysis

The next step was to examine the extent to which teachers’ inquiry-based working
explained differences in the capacity to change, and then determine which aspects
of inquiry-based working were most critical for enhancing primary school teachers’
capacity to change. The dependent variables referred to collaboration, professional
learning activities undertaken, and the three motivational factors. The independent
variables pertained to the aspects of inquiry-based working: working with an inquiry
habit of mind, demonstrating data literacy, using data at the school level to improve
educational quality, and using data in classrooms. The analysis included both the
main and interaction effects.
The correlations were moderately high (0.5 ≥ r ≤ 0.7). For one-sided testing, the
results are significant if the p value is less than or equal to 0.05. In the following
tables, significance levels appear in bold font. To gauge the eta-squared effect sizes,
this study used Cohen’s (1988) values: 0.02 = small, 0.13 = medium, and 0.26 = large

Collaboration variables

Collaboration was measured using three scales: (1) joint work, (2) task interdepend-
ency, and (3) collegial support. The results in Table 4 reveal that working with an
inquiry habit of mind and using data in classrooms had significant predictive power
for task interdependency; data use at the school level significantly and positively
predicted joint work. Moreover, working with an inquiry habit of mind predicted
collegial support to a significant degree. Demonstrating data literacy, however, was
not a significant predictor of any aspect of collaboration. The eta-squared values

Table 3  Descriptive results for the scales used
N M SD Skewness Kurtosis
Journal of Educational Change

Inquiry-based working Working with an inquiry habit of mind 787 4.17 .59 − 1.03 .09 2.03 .17
Demonstrating data literacy 787 4.51 .54 − 2.15 .09 8.25 .17
Data use at the school level 787 4.16 .63 − .88 .09 1.31 .17
Data use in classrooms 787 4.59 .49 − 2.45 .09 10.73 .17
Capacity to change Collaboration Joint work 787 3.84 .78 − .93 .09 .54 .17
Task interdependency 787 4.33 .58 − 1.70 .09 4.33 .17
Collegial support 787 3.91 .71 − .80 .09 .82 .17
Motivation Internalizing school goals into personal goals 787 4.47 .59 − 1.87 .09 5.70 .17
Sense of self efficacy 787 4.19 .58 − 1.19 .09 2.91 .17
Job satisfaction 787 4.31 .69 − 1.61 .09 3.52 .17
Professional learning activities undertaken Keeping up to date 787 4.20 .67 − 1.08 .09 1.44 .17
Experimenting 787 4.15 .63 − .92 .09 1.41 .17
Reflecting 787 4.44 .53 − 1.81 .09 6.79 .17
Sharing knowledge and experience 787 3.81 .77 − .85 .09 .73 .17

1 = totally disagree, 2 = partly disagree, 3 = neither disagree nor agree, 4 = partly agree, 5 = totally agree. M = mean item scores, SD = standard deviation, SE = standard

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Table 4  Multilevel analysis: summary of inquiry-based working variables’ ability to predict collabora-

tion variables
Intercept* Working with Demonstrating Using data Using data in η2
an inquiry data literacy at the school classrooms
habit of mind level
b (SE) b (SE) p b (SE) p b (SE) p b (SE) p

Joint work 3.88(.06) .06(.04) .18 − .05(.05) .33 .13(.05) .01 .07(.06) .24 .12
Task interdependency 4.35(.03) .25(.04) .00 .01 (.05) .79 .00(.05) .97 .16(.06) .00 .19
Collegial support 3.94(.05) .13(.04) .00 .02(.05) .76 .01(.05) .78 .08(.06) .17 .13

Significant p-values (≤ .05) are reported in bold type

b regression coefficient, SE standard error, η2 = eta squared
*All intercepts are significant (p < .00)

(η2 = 0.12–0.19) were all medium-sized, implying that 12%–19% of the variance in

the collaboration scores could be explained by the aspects of inquiry-based working.
The interaction between working with an inquiry habit of mind and demonstrating
data literacy was a significant and negative predictor of both joint work (b = −0.20;
SE = 0.10; p = 0.02) and task interdependency (b = −0.20; SE = 0.09, p = 0.02).
Teachers working with an inquiry habit of mind were less inclined to engage in joint
work when they also demonstrated data literacy.

Professional learning activities variables

Undertaking professional learning activities involved four scales: (1) keeping up

to date, (2) experimenting, (3) reflecting, and (4) sharing knowledge and experi-
ence. As displayed in Table 5, working with an inquiry habit of mind and dem-
onstrating data literacy significantly predicted keeping up-to-date, whereas work-
ing with an inquiry habit of mind and using data in classrooms both significantly

Table 5  Multilevel analysis: summary of inquiry-based working variables’ ability to predict professional

learning activities variables
Intercept* Working with Demonstrating Using data at Using data in η2
an inquiry data literacy the school level classrooms
habit of mind
b (SE) b (SE) p b (SE) p b (SE) p b (SE) p

Keeping up to date 4.20 (.03) .65 (.04) .00 .15 (.05) .00 .05 (.04) .24 .06 (.05) .30 .43
Experimenting 4.16 (.03) .40 (.04) .00 .04 (.05) .49 − .04 (.05) .45 .18 (.06) .00 .25
Reflecting 4.46 (.02) .35 (.03) .00 .04 (.04) .34 .04 (.03) .28 .17 (.04) .00 .44
Sharing knowledge 3.86 (.05) .13 (.04) .00 − .01 (.05) .82 .13 (.04) .00 .00 (.05) .96 .18
and experience

Significant p-values (≤ .05) are reported in bold type

b regression coefficient; SE standard error; η2 eta squared
*All intercepts are significant (p < .00)
Journal of Educational Change

predicted experimenting and reflecting. Moreover, working with an inquiry habit

of mind and using data at the school level significantly predicted sharing knowl-
edge and experience. According to these results, working with an inquiry habit of
mind was a significant and positive predictor of all aspects related to undertak-
ing professional learning activities. The eta-squared values (η2 = 0.19–0.44) were
medium or large, such that 19%–44% of the variance in the professional learning
activities scores could be explained by inquiry-based working.
A positive interaction effect emerged between working with an inquiry habit
of mind and using data at the school level; together, the two variables predicted
reflecting (b = 0.17; SE = 0.07, p = 0.02). The interaction between working with
an inquiry habit of mind and using data at the school level (b = −0.18; SE = 0.08,
p = 0.03) significantly and negatively predicted sharing knowledge and experi-
ence. Teachers using data at the school level were more willing to reflect when
they also had an inquiry habit of mind. However, those educators were also less
inclined to share their knowledge and experience.

Motivational variables

The motivational variables, related to the capacity to change, involve the extent to
which teachers internalize school goals, their sense of self-efficacy, and their job
satisfaction. Table 6 illustrates the ability of the inquiry-based working variables
to predict these motivational variables. Working with an inquiry habit of mind,
using data at the school level, and using data in classrooms were significant, posi-
tive predictors of internalizing school goals as personal aims. A teacher’s sense
of self-efficacy was significantly, positively predicted by working with an inquiry
habit of mind, demonstrating data literacy, and using data in classrooms. The eta-
squared values (η2 = 0.11–0.32) were medium or large, so 11%–32% of the vari-
ance in the motivational variable scores was explained by inquiry-based working.
However, none of the four aspects of inquiry-based working was a significant pre-
dictor of job satisfaction. Moreover, no interaction effects emerged between the
aspects of inquiry-based working and the motivational variables.
A teacher’s level of education provided a significantly positive predictor of
keeping up to date (b = 0.058, SE = 0.02, p = 0.009). Teachers with a master’s
degree were more willing to keep abreast of new knowledge and educational
developments than were instructors without one. The teacher’s education level
was also a significant, negative predictor of joint work (b = −0.006, SE = 0.02,
p = 0.001), collegial support (b = −0.098, SE = 0.03, p = 0.001), sharing knowl-
edge and experience (b = −0.14, SE = 0.03, p < 0.001), internalizing school
goals (b = −0.06, SE = 0.02, p = 0.01), and job satisfaction (b = −0.07, SE = 0.03,
p = 0.007). That is, teachers who had attained a master’s degree were less inclined
to exhibit these aspects of a capacity to change.
As the results in Table  7 demonstrate, the model was capable of explaining
within-school differences among teachers. Regarding aspects of the capacity


Table 6  Multilevel analysis: summary of inquiry-based working variables’ ability to predict motivational variables
Intercept* Working with an inquiry Demonstrating data literacy Using data at the school Using data in classrooms η2
habit of mind level
b (SE) b (SE) p b (SE) p b (SE) p b (SE) p

Internalizing school goals 4.52 (.03) .20 (.03) .00 .04 (.04) .39 .10 (.04) .01 .14 (.05) .00 .32
into personal goals
Sense of self-efficacy 4.22 (.03) .16 (.04) .00 .19 (.04) .00 .03 (.04) .49 .13 (.05) .01 .30
Job satisfaction 4.36 (.05) − .00 (.04) .95 − .03 (.05) .48 − .05 (.04) .23 .05 (.05) .31 .11

Significant p-values (≤ .05) are reported in bold type

b regression coefficient, SE standard error, η2 eta squared
*All intercepts are significant (p < .01)
Journal of Educational Change
Journal of Educational Change

Table 7  Variance in capacity to change explained by inquiry-based working within schools


Collaboration Joint work .18

Task interdependency .20
Collegial support .18
Professional learning activities Keeping up to date .47
undertaken Experimenting .27
Reflecting .48
Sharing knowledge and experience .26
Motivational variables Internalizing school goals into personal goals .38
Sense of self-efficacy .33
Job satisfaction .15

to change, 18%–48% of the within-school variance could be explained by the

inquiry-based working variables.


This study sought to investigate how and to what extent teachers’ inquiry-based
working predicts their capacity to contribute to change. The answers to these ques-
tions can help different stakeholders to develop strategies for initiating school
reforms and improving the change capacity of teachers. The teachers’ change capac-
ity was operationalized in terms of three aspects: (1) teachers’ collaborations, (2) the
extent to which teachers undertake professional learning activities, and (3) motiva-
tional variables. Each aspect was divided into several sub-aspects.
Regarding our first research question, ‘To what extent does teachers’ inquiry-
based working in primary schools predict their capacity to change?’, we found that
all the inquiry-based working variables—working with an inquiry habit of mind,
demonstrating data literacy, data use at the school level, and data use in class-
rooms—were significant drivers, promoting an increased capacity to change among
teachers. Together they have a relatively great impact on teacher’s change capacity.
Thus, inquiry-based working is of great importance with respect to reinforcing the
capacity to change within primary schools. Hence, schools can focus on enhanc-
ing the inquiry habit of mind and data literacy of their teachers, along with their
use of data in classrooms and at the school level. If teachers work in such a way,
they are likely to collaborate, learn, have a high sense of self-efficacy, and feel moti-
vated to try to accomplish the school’s goals. Whereas Seashore Louis and Lee
(2016) in their research suggested that in a culture in which data use is a common
and shared activity teacher professionalization emerges, in our study, we adopted
data use related to inquiry-based working, which is a much broader approach. In
this approach, besides having skills to work with data, an inquiry-based attitude

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is essential. Such an attitude is reflected in working with an inquiry habit of mind

which means that these teachers are curious, ask questions, and base their rational
judgements on facts, use data in order to learn and adapt new instructional practices.
Consequently, an inquiry habit of mind together with data use stimulates teachers to
reflect upon and learn from data, and, therefore, offer guidance for classroom prac-
tices. Against this background, change is not something that happens to teachers.
On the contrary, teachers can initiate change and adapt their instructional strate-
gies, based on facts and knowledge. Thus, it is worthwhile to encourage schools and
teams to collectively work in an inquiry-based way as this may reinforce teachers´
capacity to change, which can lead to an enhanced educational quality and strength-
ened opportunities to meet students’ needs.
In the current study, the participants scored relatively high on almost all scales for
inquiry-based working and the capacity to change, which may have been caused by
the fact that schools that have already adopted an inquiry-based approach may have
been more interested in participating in this study than other schools would have
been. However, as the purpose of this study was to relate teachers’ inquiry-based
working to their capacity to change, this might be called an advantage: we needed
such schools to investigate this relationship.
With regard to our second research question, ‘Which aspects of inquiry-based
working are the most important drivers of a teacher’s capacity to change in pri-
mary schools?’, we found that working with an inquiry habit of mind appeared to be
the most important driver in reinforcing teachers’ capacity to change. Teachers who
work with an inquiry habit of mind like to collaborate with colleagues, exhibit a high
level of professional learning, internalize school goals into personal aims, and have a
high sense of self-efficacy. Whereas Brown and Greany (2018) displayed that school
leaders should stimulate and support teachers’ abilities to work with data, our find-
ings showed that data literacy has very little influence on their capacity to change;
it only leads to keeping up-to-date and self-efficacy. Our study reveals that working
with an inquiry-habit of mind is of much more importance than teachers being data
literate. With this finding, we add on research of Krüger (2010a). She states that
though it is not necessary for all teachers to conduct research themselves or to be
data literate, they must work with an inquiry habit of mind. Therefore, school lead-
ers could stimulate their teachers to utilize their curiosity and retain an open mind to
new perspectives, for such an attitude appeals to their inquiry habit of mind.
We also found data use at the school and classroom levels to be key aspects of
inquiry-based working. Teachers who frequently use data at the classroom level may
express a higher sense of task interdependency, tend to learn through experimen-
tation and reflection and to internalize school goals. Moreover, their sense of self-
efficacy seems to increase. In particular, using data in the classroom is crucial for
the realization of evidence-based improvements in teaching strategies. Using data at
the school level enhances the capacity to change as well. It appears to reinforce the
likelihood of teachers to internalize school goals as well as their tendency to share
their knowledge and experience and work jointly. Whereas the literature indicates
that collaboration is essential in realizing change (e.g., Hargreaves and Fullan 2012;
Harris et  al. 2015; Ho and Lee 2016, our findings disclose that both individuality
and collectivity are needed to foster a capacity to change. In a sense, data use at the

Journal of Educational Change

school level and at the classroom level seem to be complementary factors that sup-
plement each other’s ability to affect a capacity to change. Their complementarity is
understandable, in that data use at the school level influences teamwork, while data
use in the classroom, experimentation, reflection, a sense of self-efficacy, and the
internalization of school goals into personal goals are all based on individual teacher
actions (Earl and Katz 2006).
In contrast with our supposition, teacher’s job satisfaction was not predicted by
any aspect of inquiry-based working. An explanation for this may be found in the
fact that job satisfaction is a complex variable, influenced by both the dispositional
characteristics of the individual and the situational factors of the job (Singh and
Kaur 2010). However, in the current study, the measurement of job satisfaction did
not integrate situational factors. Therefore, caution is required with respect to this
Supplementary to our research questions, we found some interaction effects.
First, working with an inquiry habit of mind and demonstrating data literacy nega-
tively interacted with joint work and task interdependency. It appears that teachers
who work with an inquiry habit of mind and who also demonstrate data literacy,
are less inclined to engage in joint work featuring interdependent tasks. We identi-
fied that working with an inquiry habit of mind, teacher’s capability to reflect, self-
efficacy, and the extent to which teachers internalize school goals into personal goals
relate to the characteristics of individual teachers. In contrast, joint work and task
interdependency require shared capabilities. Furthermore, the results from the cur-
rent study reflect the teachers’ own perceptions, which can be called a limitation.
(Schwartz 1999). It is also important to emphasize that the methods used in this
study were not intended to find causal relationships. This means caution is advised
regarding the findings and the interpretations.
As a second negative interaction effect, it seems that teachers with an inquiry
habit of mind, who use data at the school level, do not tend to share knowledge and
experiences with others. However, teachers working with an inquiry habit of mind
appear to be more reflective upon their own actions and behavior when they also
use data at the school level. It may be the case that teachers working with an inquiry
habit of mind and demonstrating data literacy believe that they are able to inter-
pret the data they collect and that they can give feedback to themselves. In this way,
these educators may feel autonomous. Autonomy is a facet of an internal condi-
tion, and, as such, it relates to the motivational variables (Little 1990). For teachers
with a strong sense of autonomy, this trait may lead to stand-alone behavior rather
than collaboration. These teachers may believe that they do not need feedback from
their colleagues to verify their way of working. On the other hand, considering the
positive interaction between teacher’s inquiry habit of mind, data use, and teacher’s
reflectivity, it seems that when a teacher’s reflective process is based on curiosity
and data, their reflection may even more strongly alter their mindsets by drawing on
other perspectives, which is in line with the findings of Desimone (2009). School
leaders could use this positive interaction by providing teachers with challenging
tasks. Such challenging and innovative work requires reflectivity and may enhance
teacher’s capacity to change even further.

Journal of Educational Change

With respect to the background characteristics—gender, age, teacher’s level of

education and experience—we found that education level seemed to offer positive
predictors of a teacher’s willingness to stay abreast of developments in the field.
As such, it appears to be relevant to stimulate teachers to obtain a higher education
level, for instance a masters’ degree, for more education generally increases teach-
er’s professional capital (Kocór and Worek 2017). All other background characteris-
tics did not relate significantly to any of the aspects of inquiry-based working. This
finding conflicts with findings by Mullola et al. (2011), Rubie-Davies et al. (2012),
and Mueller (2013). They found that these characteristics might influence teachers’
inquiry-based working. Our findings, on the other hand, support the findings of Uit-
erwijk-Luijk et al. (2017) that age and gender have no significant relationship to any
aspect of teacher’s inquiry-based working.

Implications for educational practice and policy

Because of the ongoing theme of raising performance standards, teachers need

capacity to change in order to adapt their teaching and learning practices. Our study
reveals that inquiry-based working strongly predicts teachers’  capacity to change
and that working with an inquiry habit of mind is the strongest driver along with
data use at the  school and classroom level. However, we performed our study in
the field of Dutch primary education. In the Netherlands schools are autonomous,
although the accountability and output control are still leading (Ehren et al. 2017;
Neeleman 2018). Dutch schools differ from schools in other countries in the extent
of their autonomy. Therefore, when describing the implications for educational prac-
tice and policy, we distinguish between implications for the Netherlands and for
other countries.
First, in the Dutch system, our framework of inquiry-based working and teach-
ers’ capacity to change is useful for both school leaders and teachers and for educa-
tors of leaders and teachers. Stimulating teachers to work inquiry-based, teaching
them how to adopt an inquiry habit of mind, and collectively using data at the class-
room and school level may reinforce teachers’ capacity to change. In this way, teach-
ers may change their teaching strategies in order to meet their students’ educational
needs. As such, schools can deliberately exploit and benefit from the autonomy
offered, and vice versa, such a schools’ autonomy enables schools to work inquiry-
based. Meanwhile, the Dutch governmental approach is still based on output con-
trol and ranking, which may lead to competition between schools and, for instance,
teaching to the test (Hadfield and Ainscow 2018). Based on our framework and
results, we suggest that along with the output control the national inspectorate will
also utilize contextual methods of evaluations. As such, teachers can use their ability
to prioritize and make choices in their own contextual practices, whereas their deci-
sions in the adjustments of teaching and learning strategies are based on facts and
Second, although the autonomy in Dutch schools differs from the educational
systems in many other countries all over the world, the findings might be useful
for schools, governments and policy makers in other countries, because our study

Journal of Educational Change

shows that in a system of schools’ autonomy teams focus on educational devel-

opment by means of inquiry-based working. Therefore, without abandoning the
accountability approach, governments and policy makers worldwide could consider
granting schools a certain extent of autonomy. Since schools are operating in dif-
ferent regions, cities and contexts, schools are confronted with different demands
of students’ needs. A certain degree of autonomy may appeal to teachers’ creativity
and offers them opportunities to adapt their teaching and learning strategies to their
specific context. In such a context of schools’ autonomy, teachers may feel capable
of moving forward and meeting the demands of adjusting their teaching practices to
serve the different needs of their students. Inquiry-based working could stimulate
teachers to collaborate and might enhance their sense of self-efficacy.
Data use for both educational development and accountability requires courage
from teachers and school leaders. Therefore, we underpin the importance of trust
from the government in school’s capabilities to realize educational growth and devel-
opment. In line with Fink’s (2016) statements about trust, we emphasize that confi-
dence of the government and the inspectorate in schools and trust within schools
might be a key factor in realizing educational changes through an inquiry-based way
of working. Trust may contribute to teachers’ and school leaders’ courage.
In our study, accountability and schools’ autonomy seem to be relevant variables.
By adding these variables to our framework, future research might give more insight
in differences between countries according the relationship between inquiry-based
working and teacher’s capacity to change. Besides, our quantitative approach did not
provide detailed insights into how teachers practice and experience inquiry-based
working. It would be useful to identify how teachers give meaning to inquiry-based
working and to the relationship between inquiry-based working and the realization
of educational changes. Therefore, the next step should be to explore these patterns
in a more qualitative way.


This study enriches our understanding of inquiry-based working and how teacher’s
change capacity links in with conditions in this way of working. From a theoretical
perspective, our findings offer new insights in how inquiry-based working is related
to the capacity to change of primary school teachers. Valuable conclusions can be
drawn about the reinforcement of teacher’s capacity to change, which we operation-
alized in terms of collaboration, professional learning activities, and motivational
variables. First, inquiry-based working strongly appears to predict teacher’s capacity
to change, which means that these teachers seem to be likely to collaborate, initiate
their own professionalization, have a high sense of self-efficacy, and feel motivated
to contribute to achieve the school’s goals.
Second, herein, the most important driver seems to be working with an inquiry
habit of mind. A strong inquiry habit of mind might serve teacher’s inclination
to collaborate and obtain a high level of professional learning. Also, such a habit
may contribute to teacher’s sense of self-efficacy and their internalization of school
goals into personal goals. In addition, as we found data use at the school level and

Journal of Educational Change

in classrooms to be complementary, data use at these two levels also is an important

driver. Both individuality and collectivity are valuable in fostering teacher’s capac-
ity to change. A higher teacher’s education level such as a master’s degree seems
to offer positive predictors of a teacher’s willingness to stay abreast of educational
developments. Finally, as working with an inquiry habit of mind and data literacy
may interact with joint work and sharing knowledge and experiences, school leaders
could encourage and support collaborative inquiry. Also, they could promote a posi-
tive attitude towards inquiry-based working and emphasize its benefits for the edu-
cational quality at classroom and school level, as well as for teachers’ well-being.
Ultimately, a school team that works in an inquiry-based way is able to make its
own substantiated educational choices in order to meet the different needs of their

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